Free agents the Rangers should target and who to avoid

Brandon Pirri is a 25-year-old high volume shooter with a 22-goal season under his belt
Brandon Pirri is a 25-year-old high volume shooter with a 22-goal season under his belt

With the decision to let Keith Yandle go and the Rangers in position to dump more salary this week, it suddenly looks like New York may be a player in free agency once again. With Friday’s frenzy nearly upon us, here’s who the Rangers should look to add and who to steer away from.

Who they should target

Viktor Stalberg – If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Stalberg was inconsistent to start last season, but fit like a glove on the third line in the second half of the year. He didn’t produce enough to warrant a huge increase in salary, so the Rangers should be smart and bring Stalberg back for another go.

Brandon Pirri – I was extremely frustrated when the Blueshirts didn’t top Anaheim’s deal of a sixth-round pick for Pirri at the trade deadline, but sure enough the Ducks weren’t even high enough on Pirri to extend a just-over $1 million qualifying offer. Maybe I’m way off base with this one, but a 25-year-old former 20-goal scorer is definitely worth that money in my book. As a third-line scorer, Pirri would come much cheaper than Thomas Vanek and still has room to grow.

Justin Fontaine – Criminally underappreciated by Minnesota, Fontaine has consistently posted eye-popping points-per-60 numbers despite rarely receiving consistent opportunities with the Wild. He should be a top priority for the Blueshirts.

Michael Grabner – Many fans have a very false perception of Grabner’s abilities thanks to the 34-goal season he posted with the Islanders when he first broke into the league in 2010-2011, but this is not the same guy. Grabner still has wheels and would be useful in a forechecking role, but he should be paid only as such.

Brett Connolly – The 2010 sixth overall pick still has a wicked wrist shot but has failed to carve out his niche with two clubs now. He still has sufficient tools that he should garner plenty of attention, so it will likely come down to opportunity for Connolly. The Rangers might have to guarantee a third-line spot to Connolly to land him, but that’s risk I’d be willing to take.

Jason Demers – Obviously this is wholly contingent on the Rangers moving one of Marc Staal or Dan Girardi, as well as Demers’ own contract demands (rumored to be in the neighborhood of $5.5 million annually). But as a 28-year-old puck-mover, he’s exactly the type of player the Blueshirts need.

Jamie McGinn – The streakiest of scorers, McGinn has long been the apple of the Rangers’ eye according to Pat Leonard. He will have no shortage of suitors and the Blueshirts absolutely should not get into a bidding war for his services, but for the right deal McGinn would be a very solid addition.

Patrick Wiercioch – Like Fontaine, Wiercioch has been underused by Ottawa and the #fancystats indicate he could thrive with a new opportunity.

Justin Schultz – The Blueshirts were hot on Schultz’s heels when he first signed with the Oilers back in 2012. They may have dodged a bullet then, as Schultz has been nowhere near worth his $3.9 million cap hit. That said, Schultz started to find himself with the Penguins and is still just 25 years old. On a short-term prove-it deal, Schultz would be well worth a gamble.

Jason Chimera – Yes, I know he’s 37 years old. But Chimera still has speed to burn and is coming off a 20-goal season. I wouldn’t give him a multi-year deal, but for one or two seasons, he’d be a great fit on the third line.

Darren Helm – One of the very few guys that can match Carl Hagelin’s speed, Helm should be in high demand after the Penguins raced their way to the Cup. He’s a solid defensive pivot and while Helm might be very expensive for the fourth-line role he likely fits into for New York, he’d go a long way toward tilting the ice back in the Blueshirts’ favor.

Who they should avoid

Steven Stamkos – Nothing against the player, but New York would have to decimate its roster to even have a shot at signing him. And even then, he could still choose Detroit, or Toronto, or Buffalo, or Tampa – all of whom seem to have a much better chance at landing the big fish than the Blueshirts. If that happens, New York would be left with a worse roster, money to spare, and not much of a viable contingency plan.

Frans Nielsen – A very good player that would help in two major problem areas – speed and penalty killing – but he’s going to get a much fatter deal than he really deserves.

Matt Martin – If this was a direct swap for Tanner Glass’s place in the lineup it would be great. But adding him to the mix for $2 million or more is just compounding a problem.

Milan Lucic – The Rangers already have a big, physical guy that goes hard to the net, and his name is Chris Kreider. He’s three years younger than Lucic and could lap him around the rink, too. Luckily it looks likely the western Canadian teams will save the Rangers from themselves on this one.

Kyle Okposo – You may have noticed a trend by now – the Rangers should just say no to any of the top guys on the market. Okposo is certainly tempting and a guy any team would like to have, but he’s going to get a mega contract that will be hard for him to meet.

Who do you want the Rangers to target and avoid in free agency?

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    • I agree with Alec. However, if we could get Martin for what Glass gets, he’s worth that kind of contract. I know Helm may be expensive for a 4th line center but the way AV uses his 4C (25% OZS%), Helm is worth the money. We probably won’t have Lindberg back until late October at best and maybe close to December. Get rid of Glass, if possible and put Fast and Hrivik on the 4th line. Only issue that leaves is a right handed winger in the top 9. I hate having 3 lefties playing RW in top 3 lines.
      I would pay the money for a top pairing right side defenseman. They won’t buyout Girardi, maybe they use it on Staal, pay Demers, and insert Brady Skjei. This kid Graves has a rifle of a shot and word is he’s getting close to making the NHL show.

  • Devante Smith-Pelley,Beau Bennett, Brandon Pirri, Brett Connolly,Josh Jooris, are all guys they should consider but Joe Colbourne and Stalberg should be the ideal targets, Colbourne has gotten better every year with Flames.

    • Left of DSP, Beau and Jooris because reports indicate all will be re-signing, just not on QOs. But intrigued by all, for sure

    • Didn’t Beau Bennet just get traded? He’s an RFA at best case which requires an offer sheet and compensation.
      Colbourne is big but I don’t thing he is the quickest skater. Takes a lot of faceoffs every year. He’s pretty good at it.

  • the rangers have basic needs grit something that matt martin would fit speed to replace hags you go for grabner on defense either go for Schultz or weircoch and keep stalberg and resign kreider, miller, and hayes

    • WAIT…..Did she actually use some punctuation???

      Do I really see a comma? OMG….TWO COMMAS!

  • Kevin I agree with everything you’ve written, of the players I know enough about to form an opinion, which is all except 1 or 2. Great article.

  • What happened with Jon Merrill? Wasn’t he highly touted at one point? Haven’t followed his career much but was surprised he wasn’t qualified by njd.

    • Jon is a friend of mine – would love to see him as a Blueshirt this season, but only if we are able to shed Staal or Girardi, and even then he would likely just be a 7D so it probably does not make sense.

      Jon is a great skater who can move the puck and has a hard low slap-shot, all things the Rangers could use. I think he struggled to put it all together on a mediocre NJD team with a ton of youth on the blueline to compete against (Severson, Larsson, Schlemko, Moore).

      This play didn’t help his case –

  • Nice write up, and agree on most choices made, both for, and against.

    Stalberg for sure to re-sign, and a good PK guy with speed. That would be all for the offensive side of the team, and plenty of choices. We still have some internal choices we can fill in the blanks with, on the cheap, Jenson comes to mind……

    On defense, Demers, only if we can rid ourselves of Dan Girardi, that name seems to be a recurring theme !!!!! Schultz would be an interesting kid to look at only because he went to the Oilers, was a flop, so what else is new? We thought enough of him early on to make a run for him, how bad can this kid be. He played with both Mac Truck, and Stepan , in college, and could reinvigerate his game again. That possible signing has got to be for a very reasonable contract, with no long term, but plenty of bonuses based on performances !!!!!!

    The next week, or so is gong to be very interesting to say the least !!!!!!!!

  • Thought from left field:
    Offer sheet to Seth Jones: 5 years, $5.08mm per, front loaded.

    CBJ can match, but will have minimal cap room if they do. We now get a 1st pair RD & 4 pair available in case of injury/trade. With what Yandle got, it’s a steal.

          • I love that the terrible contracts Columbus gave Dubinsky and Foligno are biting them in the arse. They have tied up over $25M in cap space on five very average players, Dubinsky, Foligno, Clarkson, Hartnell, and Tyutin.

            Columbus is an odd case. It’s not like they can’t afford Seth Jones, so the cap isn’t hurting them in that sense, but, they can’t really improve the roster as it is. This is good news for the Rangers as Columbus is one of the teams that should have been challenging for the division crown by now. Thanks to those bad deals, they turned a nice crop of prospects into a team that is looking at a long run of 5th and 6th place division finishes.

          • Jarmo put them right underneath the cap, the only relief they can get is buying out Hartnell, otherwise dealing more youth like Jenner. They’re so tight under the cap that they can’t call up kids from the farm unless someone goes on LTIR.

          • Jenner… 23yo 30 goal scorer with size and some snarl…..yes please.

            Realistically, I’ll just have to take his contributions on my keeper fantasy hockey team as I don’t see the stars aligning and him joining the Rangers.

    • And if we pull that off, we can go for the McD/Draisaitl trade. Everybody on LD will know the system except the guy from COL and Jones would be the only guy on the RD.

      Draisaitl/Hayes/Buchnevich could be a great third line however you sort it, biggest question is your expansion draft list compiles.

      • So what would you think a better deal is: Hall for Larsson or Draisaitl & picks for McDonagh

        Whatever happened to the GM contest, anyways?

        • McD for Draisaitl is an awful deal for the Rangers.

          I don’t see how that makes the Rangers better. You are swapping out the best player on the Rangers for a young forward that you see on the third line? You never ever deal a top pair D for a forward, unless it’s a McDavid or Eichel caliber forward.

          Unless, and you are 100% allowed your own opinion on this and I am not trying to insult you, do you think McD is just not very good?

          • I’ll swap out McD for Skjei any day of the week. Draisaitl gets me a cheap two way 3C(who is better than Hayes) that I can slot into the top 6 whenever I move Brass or Stepan. In the interim I’ve cleared $5mm in cap space.

            Money matters as much as skill in this environment. I can get 95% of McD in Skjei at 1/5 the price. Didn’t win it all with him, never going to put us over the top, so you find a cost effective replacement and move on.

            Yes, I’m colder than your ex-wife’s heart, but that’s what good GMs do.

          • That’s creative, but I see two massive holes in your logic.

            One, McD is many orders of magnitude better than Skjei at the moment, and likely will continue to be for the next few years. Remember, McD is one of the very best Ds in the world right now. Skjei’s ceiling seems to be that of a second pair D.

            Two, even if Skjei is moderately close to McD, you still have created a massive hole on your blue line that you can’t simply fill with $3.5M in cap space (Skjei and Draisaitel don’t play for free, so some of the cap space you subtract by moving McD still gets used on his direct replacement).

    • I LOVE Seth Jones as well, but it’s a moot point now.

      OLUMBUS, OHIO – The Columbus Blue Jackets have signed defenseman Seth Jones to a six-year contract through the 2021-22 National Hockey League season, club General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen announced today. Kekalainen and Jones will be available to meet with the media today at 2 p.m.

      • Like I wrote, a thought from left field. I’m sure the Ham n eggers would take weeks to process the possibilities, but lucky for them the moment has passed.

        On to the next plan.

  • Agree on McGinn….. nice addition. But don’t see how we’d be able to afford him for the same reason as most on the “do not pursue” list. He’s gotta be looking at a 3-4 yr deal for around 10 mil, no? 3 yrs @ $3.5 is too rich for our blood…and I’d be surprised if he didn’t get more than that somewhere.

    • He’s worth that money much moreso than a Martin – can contribute offensively. Would not be first priority, but if they can clear more space and are looking at a couple of additions, he’s a fit

      • Oh, definitely agree. I’m pessimistic that either Staal or Girardi are off our team come next season though. So unfortunately I don’t really see much room.

  • While I like Kreider, we need to start making decisions on what he actually is and what we think he is. Yes he is fast, but his stats show him to be nothing more than a 20 goal scorer and a 44 point a year guy. Is this worth $4.5M? Yes he is young, but he is ripe for a bridge deal, just to see if he can really show everyone if these are his numbers going forward, or can he become a 30 goal, 60 point guy. Milan Lucic, while older, has shown the propensity to have more than 15 more assists a year, clearly making others around him better. While not as speedy, he adds a team dimension Kreider does not. If that is worth $1M more, I am not sure.

    I like Grabner and Okposo, but not at big bucks. I would stay away from Wiercioch. If we move Nash, I would love to get Stamkos, if he would accept $9M for 7 years.

    • Lucic will get a monster multi year deal. He’s coming off one which paid him 18 mil over 3 years. Given how tight we are to the cap with dollars already tied up in undesired players, the last thing I want to do is add another one to the mix.

    • Kreider at $4.5M could be a good deal for the Rangers depending on how long the contract is, the longer, the better.

      Lucic is 28 and hitting the decline phase. He’s a slow player that’s about to get slower. On top of that, he’s rather one dimensional, he’s just a big body with decent hands, he doesn’t defend well and doesn’t skate well. He’s a hard pass for me.

      He looks like the kind of player that will be out of the league by 33 or 34

  • Kevin, nice write up, I do disagree with a couple of your stay way from free agents. Namely Matt Martin or Milan Lucic . I believe they add an element of grit, speed and nastiness that any NHL team would love to have either of these 2 on their roster. Your comparison of Kreider and Lucic made me scratch my head. If Chris Kreider brought the same passion and nastiness to each game like Lucic does, we would have the second coming of Cam Neely , pure talent wise the sky is the limit for Kreider, its his heart that I question.

  • Fine. Keep loading the roster with more 3rd and 4th liners. When the team has a glaring, wanting hole for some REAL TALENT! Whatever. Im starting my vacation today—-fishing and sleeping. Wake me when they finally assemble a Championship roster—-sounds like a nice looooong sleep for me!!

    • Given your above perspective….why lament the Hagelin trade so much? Doesn’t really jibe.

      • Not one of the guys mentioned would replace what Hagelin gave this team. Yes he was a 3rd or 4th liner, but was so much more to this team rhan that. If you havent figured that out by now, then you never will. Watching Hagelin play for the Pens the next5 years might be the only way for u and your lot to fully understand what they lost

  • Agree on the avoids – I like the targets but it comes down to money.

    Somehow the Rangers need to convince guys like Shultz and Pirri, to come over here and prove themselves without backing up the Brinks truck. Not sold on Connolly – saw a lot of him in Tampa and he just never looked comfortable.

    Demers would be great but his price will be driven up by the market and likely Helms as well. Grabner would be interesting.

    Matt Martin – the eye test says he is the kind of guy you want on the team and I am sure he would love to play for the NYR. But the talk is 3-4 $Mill and that is nuts.

    The one under the radar UFA i’d like to catch is Jonathan Marchessault. For the Corsi dudes, he is a possession monster. CF 54% with 55% d-zone starts at 5v5. Quick on the ice and will mix it up despite his smaller stature. Tampa supposedly wants him back but i don’t know how they fit him in. Grab him please Gorts….

    • Interested in JAM too, but given he never got a real shot in NYC, hard to see him coming back for another round

      • JAM was never actually Rangers property. He was signed by the Wolfpack because he was linemates in Juniors with Ryan Bourque.

  • No Vanek please, hes another Eric Staal. I do like Pirri and Fontaine. They would be great additions. Brett Connolly plays a rounded game of hockey and would be a solid player.

    If the Rangers could dump salary then Kyle Okposo would be my number #1. Not sold on Demers, the Rangers have enough defenceman who plays the same style of hockey as him. Schultz has high end skills and would replace McIIrath, who AV doesnt seem keen on.

  • The Panthers wanted more from the Rangers for Pirri than just a sixth, though. Can’t blame NYR for that.

    • Anything concrete on that, or supposition? Even still, don’t see why a 5th or even 4th should have been prohibitive…

      • Pirri had an injured ankle at the deadline. There was no guarantee he would be able to return and if he did he still could have been compromised.

        The Ducks are having another mysterious off season. First, they made one of the worst head coaching hires in a long time, brining back Randy Carlyle, then they non-tender Pirri to save a paltry $1.02M. Combine that with the joke of a contract they gave Kesler last summer and the Ducks are firmly in ‘WTF is going on’ mode

  • Stamkos is the only guy I would absolutely want even with the big bucks. UFA time is insanity time. Most of these guys will be overpaid, so no thanks. That being said the guys on that list I like are Helm & Grabner, but I doubt they come on the cheap.

      • Should be interesting now that Dallas has both Taylor, and Tyler, from the same draft year, #1 & #2, that team is now loaded for a real run at the cup !!!!!!!!!!

      • Lucic going to Edmonton as well, so two of the big potential pitfalls for the Rangers are off the board. This is good news.

    • I read that on TSN, wow!!!!!!

      Then the Stamkos re-signing, well Paul won’t like this news at all………….

      • Nope, don’t like it but that’s what happened so the Rangers will have to try something else.

    • That P.K. deal, what was Montreal thinking? Weber is not the same horse he used to be. I guess they got sick of P.K. in Montreal and figured that was the best they could do.

      I hope P.K. does well in Nashville, could be exactly what that market needs, another high octane young player who just happens to have a sparkling personality.

  • Wouldn’t touch any of the players mentioned. If Stepan is so good trade him for assets or a RD. Would CBJ have given us Seth for Stepan? Our number one center. He’s a two at best and that’s our problem. No high end skill, toughness or speed. Stepan is slow ok slow. Trade Nash for assets or NHL ready talent. AV play Dylan he’s tough and can keep up. He just needs to play more games. Danny G is done Staal is done buy one out exposure the other to the draft. Move on. This team is Skjei, Buch, JT, Kreider and DMc. With Ryan McD and Brassard, Zuccs,Oskar and Fasth. Trade the others and add to this core. Steven Fogarthy and Boo are two players I’m looking forward to seeing. I hope they both are ready for Broadway. They’re both big, fast and skilled and centers. This team takes to much, to many NICE guys.

    • Above is spot on, Stepan alone doesn’t fetch Seth Jones, but rest of it is 99% – yes to Nieves, Hrivik, Jensen for our 4th line, don’t see Fogarty.

      need to move the senior vet core for younger core indicated
      need to consolidate these guys to less total guys = less have to be protected and reduced cap while adding to our futures/prospects.

      returning to this UFA topic, renu Stalberg; Schultz if he is willing to do min 4 for long term grooming his actual D skills so as to solidify an actual career. Other guys, only Demers and Helm.




      • Fine!

        But please tell me exactly why, any player worth anything, would want to sign a 1 year contract anywhere?

        Yes, as you said, “pay him a lil more” and you’d be more inclined in getting them to sign…. But that works with players at the twilight of their careers. The young players we want wouldn’t agree to something like that

        Hypothetically speaking. No decent, young player worth anything to be an asset to us, would take for example, a 1 year 2.4 Mill Contract over a 5 year 1.8 Mill dollar contract worth 9 Mill. Yes, they’d rather get paid 9 Mill over 5, rather then 1 year at 1.8 pro rated to be 12 Mill over 5 years.

        Young players want the years (the security) They almost never jeopardize losing years of practically fully guaranteed money in case they get seriously hurt in that year 1. Even if there injury weren’t career threatening, it STILL would be a bad situation, because now, that same players value just shot right down due to an injury, when at a time that he needs to be signed by another team by years end.

      • I was really hoping they napped too Stamos as their in arena hype guy along with signing Stamkos. They were seriously lacking the playoffs when HBK showed up for Pitt and they had nothing in TB.

  • Connolly, Pirri would be solid additions to a 3rd line along with Hayes. I can’t see the Rangers signing anyone for the backend without a trade lined up or already done. McD/Girardi/Staal/Klein/McIrath/Skjei/Holden They’ve already got too many NHL level pieces making too much. Unless a bigger ticket Klein/Staal/Girardi head out of town they’ll likely stand pat on the back end.

  • 4 out 5 players – not dentists – they should go after are on ur avoid list. Lol

    No wait….Target? Steven Stamkos. Avoid? Holik, Drury, Gomez, Redden and Richie….oops….nvm

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